Its time to stop this war

Mexico is teetering on the edge of all-out internal war between the government and the drug cartels. The latest news indicates large ramp-ups of troops sent to Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. It is my opinion that Mexico is acting in the most responsible way it can to curtail the influence and horrendous violence practiced by the drug cartels but it is becoming increasing clear that this is a war they (we) cannot win. But it is a war with an immediate solution, legalization of illicit drugs in the United States. It is clear that our thirst for illicit drugs drives the violent actions of the drug cartels. Until this market is eliminated the war will have no end and innocent people on both sides of the border will continue to live in terror.

I have a stake in this, I admit. A large portion of my extended family lives on either side of the Texas-Mexico border. They live in what used to be sleepy little mining and farming towns that have now become increasing targets for drug cartels as violence spreads East from Cuidad Juarez and West from Nuevo Laredo. While it would be an exaggeration to say that they are living in fear right now, it is obvious that the drug cartels are shifting their sphere of influence to these areas and that soon the entire border will turn into a war zone. Violence will increase, innocent people will be killed for no reason, decent politicians will be corrupted or killed, young women will become targets for sex crimes and imprisonment in the sex trade and economic opportunities for honest, hard-working Mexicans will dry up. In my view, there is only one available solution: legalization.

The Economist has an article up now arguing for this solution and stating how it might be put into practice. The reasoning is solid and the practicalities are persuasive. In particular, they argue that legalization will improve society’s ability to deal with addiction disease in a more thorough and rationale manner:

What about addiction? That is partly covered by this first argument, as the harm involved is primarily visited upon the user. But addiction can also inflict misery on the families and especially the children of any addict, and involves wider social costs. That is why discouraging and treating addiction should be the priority for drug policy. Hence the second argument: legalisation offers the opportunity to deal with addiction properly.

By providing honest information about the health risks of different drugs, and pricing them accordingly, governments could steer consumers towards the least harmful ones. Prohibition has failed to prevent the proliferation of designer drugs, dreamed up in laboratories. Legalisation might encourage legitimate drug companies to try to improve the stuff that people take. The resources gained from tax and saved on repression would allow governments to guarantee treatment to addicts—a way of making legalisation more politically palatable. The success of developed countries in stopping people smoking tobacco, which is similarly subject to tax and regulation, provides grounds for hope.

It is time to rethink our failing approach to the drug war. Mexico needs our help to pull itself back from the brink of all-out war. The immediately available solution is the reformation of our illegal drug laws. It will reduce violence in Mexico, it will improve Mexico’s economic outlook over the long-term, it will help addicts and it will reduce the burden on our prisons.

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9 responses to “Its time to stop this war

  1. Great post! I totally agree and I cannot for the life of me understand why our policy-makers don’t see how this is a better solution. For everyone.

    …and not to pick nits, but I think you mean “illicit” rather than “elicit”.

  2. i see a problem with the proposal you quote. see, if we simply price the highly dangerous stuff out of range for most people, i presume that the price will be far higher than what people are paying on the black market. (otherwise, where does this have an effect in discouraging use, especially in current users?) so the black market would still have plenty of customers and plenty of profits, over which all these wars are waging as it is.

    also, i’m not entirely sure about a proposal that creates direct paths for people to become dependent upon our government (ie, for addiction treatment). i believe very strongly in social programs to get people on their feet when they need it, but i also believe in promoting and developing independence among our citizens.

    i’m not saying what we have now is anywhere near ideal, by any means. but i have yet to see a proposal that makes me think, “hey, that’s a great idea!”

  3. Leigh: three points, 1) I didn’t read it the same way, prices would be high but would not price people out of the market, 2) the black market would presumably exist within this country and would not negatively affect Mexico’s ability to have a stable government and 3) we have to be able to trust our government with health care issues, if we do not, businesses will not be able to compete in this country.

    Ambivalent academic, thanks for the correction!

  4. Our “success” in getting people to not smoke tobacco is abysmal when you look at mortality and morbidity stats.

    Now maybe there is an argument that we should own our damage on this one, shift the burden from the relative innocents in another country to the volunteers in the US. well, plus the taxpayers that are going to end up paying for the extra health costs and productivity losses.

    but let us not be idiotic about our ability to deal with recreational drug-related health concerns. alcohol and tobacco show us that’s a pipe dream at best and more likelya totally disingenuous argument.

    The libertardians over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars like to assume that all the potential drug addicts are already fully identified in the criminal / illicit environment. Thus, legalization would net no more addicts. This is utter nonsense.

  5. Our “success” in getting people to not smoke tobacco is abysmal when you look at mortality and morbidity stats.
    But it is also true that smoking rates have dropped throughout the Western world through govt-imposed warning labels, advertisement regulation and public education.

    but let us not be idiotic about our ability to deal with recreational drug-related health concerns. alcohol and tobacco show us that’s a pipe dream at best and more likelya totally disingenuous argument.
    This is part of the point of the article. Any attempt at legalization must be accompanied by a comprehensive initiative to better understand addiction and to utilize money gained from reorganizing the “war on drugs” toward full scale prevention and treatment efforts.

    The libertardians over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars like to assume that all the potential drug addicts are already fully identified in the criminal / illicit environment. Thus, legalization would net no more addicts. This is utter nonsense.
    Agreed!

  6. Pingback: To fight or not to fight - this is the question « Molecular Philosophy

  7. Rant warning: Legalization is such an idiot solution for a terrible problem I hardly know where to start. Mainly because there are actually two independent problems: 1)addition and drug use, and 2) violent criminal organizations. The problem of drug use starts and ends with the users: tougher drug laws, not repeal, are needed to act as a deterrent, and mandatory, effective, addiction treatment. I truly believe when we have solved addiction it will be socially transformative. Violent drug organizations will not go away overnight if you legalize – instead you have just legitimized them. Did the mafia go away with the repeal of prohibition? Do you think corner dealers will peacefully co-exist with the local pot-selling CVS? Or, hey, just retire?

    And for all the pot-isn’t-so-bad occasional users out there – if you are concerned about drug violence, stop putting your cash in the thug’s pockets. You’re pissing me off.

    And legalize what exactly? Just pot? cocaine? Where do you draw the line?

    And selfishly, I just don’t want to live in, or expose my kids to, the drug-addled society that total legalization will provide. How do you keep your kids away from it when anybody can do anything everywhere? Social stigma is still a big factor – remove it and you will have a bigger addiction problem than ever.

    And listening to economists on this topic is just insane (unregulated derivatives markets anyone?)

    /End rant.

  8. That second sentence was supposed to be “1) ADDICTION and drug use…” sorry, rant overran spelling…

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